Tag Archives: augusta ga

M is for Maskey

A friend gave me a set of coasters for Christmas, beautiful beige ceramic ones with an elegant gold M etched into the top. I set them out on the coffee table this weekend, and Kevin jokingly asked if the M was for Miller. I assured him that the M was indeed, very much for the name Maskey

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It’s easy to see why he asked the question; he knew that I was still on a Miller buzz after an amazing grand opening weekend. Staff and volunteers for the Symphony Orchestra Augusta had just successfully introduced the revived theater to the community, following a 10-year, $23 million-dollar journey, and I had been blessed with a front row seat on the ride.

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The years leading up to this moment were filled with donated time and money unlike any endeavor I had ever undertaken. I served on the SOA board during the feasibility studies (2008-2011), a time I used to hound project chair Levi Hill IV to let me do anything in order to be involved. “I’ll sweep floors, hang posters, anything you need,” I vowed with awestruck enthusiasm for the impending renovation. Eventually my tenacity and vocal outbursts during board meetings must have convinced him of my passion for the building, because in 2011 he asked me to lead a team of like-minded marketing people to advocate for the campaign in the community. I recruited a group of impressive community leaders and creative minds to serve on the “MMT”,  the Miller Marketing Team. For the next 6 years, the MMT coordinated an ongoing stream of events to create awareness for the fundraising campaign and future construction. As a result of my role in these activities, I would ultimately be asked to serve on the board of the newly created Miller, LLC, and thus began my education in everything from capital campaigns to easement rights.

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Kevin always supported this often crazy journey of mine. I devoted entire weekends to representing the Miller at public events like the Downtown Loft Tour, Arts in the Heart and the Junior League Holiday Market, as well as coordinating our own events, including street festivals, birthday parties, music videos and private tours. Kevin has seen me selling shirts, answering questions, recruiting volunteers, building websites, attending meetings and even gift wrapping to raise money for the cause. He has watched me pour our personal money into marketing materials, event supplies, team lunches and souvenir sales. No matter how thin I stretched my time or money for Miller-related activities, Kevin remained steadfast in his encouragement. Never once did he challenge my level of giving, not even when I passed out broke and exhausted at the end of my many Miller adventures. I imagine most people would have at least had one conversation starting with “Um, honey, are you sure about all this?” Not my Kevin. He even allowed me to plaster Miller art and photographs all over the house, including a 9-foot painting we bought at a fundraiser back in 2010.

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He knew that the Miller journey was not always easy, for me or for the others who were involved. Volunteers and staff came and went. There were doubters, obstacles, learning curves and political battles. My portion of those challenges was minuscule compared to what Levi endured, always with grace and confidence. I tell anyone who will listen that the Miller stands proudly today because of Levi, and I have crazy respect for this charming gentleman and intelligent leader. Somehow the right people always came to us at the right time in the project, and I tend to think they were drawn to Levi’s unwavering faith and charisma. There were too many heroes in this battle to mention, but two individuals in particular felt like gifts from heaven when we needed their strengths the most. Anne Catherine Murray came in as Director of SOA at a time when the boat was flailing a bit, and she was able to maneuver us back on course with her experience and ability to make tough decisions. She was gracious and savvy; she seemed to intuitively know how to focus the talent on deck. Then, as we neared the finish line with much left to accomplish, in flies Marty Elliott, the Mary Poppins of General Managers, with her knowledge and firecracker energy.  What a blessing these three leaders have been, and I credit them and the major investors for the phenomenal structure which now connects the past of downtown Augusta with her future.

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During the opening gala, despite the incredible symphonic presentation and vocal performance by Sutton Foster, I was restless and wanted to walk the space by myself. While the sold-out crowd enjoyed the music, I meandered the glossy arcade and strolled past the shiny displays. It was a surreal moment, remembering what it used to look like and feeling a tiny bit out-of-place. I focused on being fully present in the moment, still emotional after the presentation to Levi which had taken place onstage a few moments earlier. I knew I would remember this night as long as I lived, the culmination of years of efforts by hundreds of people, humbled by the fact that I was a small part of it all, and honored to know that the name Maskey would grace the plaques in this space for generations to come. And for that, the final thanks has to go to Kevin Maskey. I want him to know that no matter what challenge I tackle, that M will always be for Maskey.

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Kev-Ang at the opening gala

 

 

Volunteer Augusta

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I hold a clear memory of walking to school in the fourth grade in our small town of LaJunta, Colorado, entertaining a wide array of big thoughts. It was the mid-70s, and for some reason I kept pondering about what life would be like when the year 2000 rolled around. I calculated how old I would be, and had difficulty picturing myself at the age of 33, a number that borders on senior citizen when you are still in single digits. I couldn’t have imagined then, that when December 31st of 1999 finally rolled around, I would be volunteering my time for a city-sponsored New Year’s Eve party in Augusta, Georgia.

Fast-forward to 1999. I had recently graduated from Leadership Augusta, a program to promote civic involvement, and one of my fellow graduates had thrown my name in the hat to be the volunteer coordinator of a street festival celebrating the new millennium. In one of the most difficult volunteer-recruitment gigs ever, I had the overwhelming task of convincing people to not only give up their free time on such a significant occasion, but to do so out in the cold, working such jobs as selling cokes, serving beers and working ticket gates.

Going into the big night, I had many open slots I had been unable to fill, and I worried that there would be unmanned posts all over the festival grounds when the time came for the big countdown. As it turns out, the volunteers from the prior shift came to my rescue, and pulled double shifts to make sure that all went well for the historic moment at midnight. It is a powerful thing when people surprise you with their generosity, and that is exactly what happened. Many of them visited my check-in table at the end of the event to tell me about their experience.

Cheeks rosy from the cold, and eyes gleaming with excitement, they proclaimed that they had an amazing experience. “Angela, we had the best time!” They gushed their enthusiasm to me as we stood around Broad Street at 1am. “We loved our volunteer time and want to do more of it! How do we go about it? How do we sign up for the next community event that needs help?”

In what Oprah would call an “aha” moment, it occurred to me that there might be a need for someone to serve as the liaison between the people who want to serve but do not know how to go about it, with the agencies who need the help but do not know how to find it. The next day, I went back to my dealership and convinced them to sponsor a website called Volunteer-Augusta.com, a resource for volunteers and non-profit groups to connect. What I didn’t know then, but realize today, is that the creation of this website and the cause of volunteerism would become my life’s passion.

In the 15 years since the site was built, I have observed first-hand the impact that donating your time can have. Volunteering allows you to have unique experiences you would not have had otherwise. You learn new skills, meet new people, feel the intrinsic reward of doing something positive and get a sense of connection with your community. You often are pushed outside of your comfort zone, which for an introvert like myself, translates into powerful personal growth.

The most impactful benefit of volunteering, however, is perspective. No matter how difficult your life may seem at times, it all comes into focus when you serve others. Whether dishing up a hot meal for a homeless person, taking donated soaps and toothbrushes to a women’s shelter, accepting tickets at a local arts event, walking shelter dogs around the park or standing outside of Kroger, ringing a bell for the Salvation Army-in these moments, you realize you are a small but vital part of a larger whole. By becoming engaged in a new endeavor, you help our community to become more robust. Your own life experience becomes richer, filled with more gratitude, kindness, and generosity. Your circle of influence expands, as you create alliances to affect positive change for all citizens. Your kids witness the importance of service, and the seed for their future volunteerism is planted.

No matter how much or how little time you have to give, I encourage you to participate in a variety of charitable activities. Build a diversified portfolio of experiences. Your first step is to think about what causes are important to you. Then visit the volunteer-augusta.com website, and find the contact information for those agencies to learn more. If you are on social media, you will want to join our Facebook group, where over 1,000 people have signed up to stay in the loop on upcoming volunteer needs. Follow us on Twitter, where there is a constant stream of 140-character posts about getting involved. If for any reason you encounter difficulty finding volunteer jobs that are a good fit for your schedule and interests, call me directly, and I will do all I can to get you as hooked on volunteering as I am. I’m confident that we will take our collective small gifts of time, and together make a tremendous impact on the area we call home. I think my 9-year old self would be proud at how it all turned out.

Augusta’s Graceful Star

This Thursday night in Augusta, Georgia is exceptionally significant: the premier of the James Brown biopic “Get On Up”. As we approach our proud moment in the spotlight, I would like to say a few words about the evening’s coordinator and an esteemed star: Deanna Brown Thomas, one of his daughters. Deanna has been working relentlessly on this event, which is not only an opportunity for our town to shine, and her father’s story to be revealed, but also a chance for the world to learn more about the James Brown Family Foundation, beneficiary of the evening’s proceeds. The Foundation’s flagship program is known as JAMP, the James Brown Academy of Musik Pupils. JAMP is year-round music education crafted to encourage youth to discover their own abilities, and keep them on a positive life path. JAMP is also one reason why Deanna is such an authentic star.

Deanna founded JAMP and it is a delightful priveledge to see her face light up when she talks about it.  She explains that the program is so important because music paved the way for her dad to journey from poverty to purpose, and he would be thrilled to know that some members of the next generation are also receiving an open door. Offering this instruction to young people in the community is Deanna’s passion. The budding musicians are always learning, practicing and performing, getting a taste of the work ethic which made James Brown famous.

A Youth performance. Other photos can be seen at www.jamesbrownfamilyfdn.org

A Youth performance. Other photos can be seen at http://www.jamesbrownfamilyfdn.org

While JAMP is a compelling story, it is not what impresses me the most about Deanna. In my brief contacts with her over the past few years, I have become convinced that she is the ultimate personification of grace. She carries herself with such dignity, it seems impossible to picture the undeniable pressures ever disturbing her always-smiling face. I aspire to carry myself with such decorum one day, perhaps filled with inner peace. (Or at least a hard-core stress-management system).

Deanna and I met in 2011, when we were both recruited to participate in “Dancing Stars of Augusta”, a fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association. Followers of my blog know that I was a hot mess nervous wreck throughout this process, a personal ordeal which was abated somewhat by writing about it.

 

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Deanna at the 2011 Dancing Stars Augusta Reception

In contrast to my frequent borderline panic attacks over the thought of performing a Tango in front of thousands of people, Deanna was the consummate cool customer, acting as though she danced in front of massive crowds every day. This is actually not far from the truth, since her famous father was known to put little Deanna on stage to dance as crowds cheered. She has only known the life of performing and mingling with celebrities, yet she never seems boastful of these stories. She will tell you she is just blessed.

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Dancers with Instructors. Group shot was taken at end of evening. Austin Rhodes and Deanna had already left for the evening.

My fellow dancers and I had plenty of down-time on the night of the performance. The event coordinators asked us to be ready early for a VIP Meet N Greet, then we waited as patrons listened to speeches and ate dinner. I spent these hours alternating between the parking lot with my headphones, listening to Rhianna’s “S&M” (the only song on my iPod which helped my nerves), and sitting in the small dressing room adding more sparkle to my makeup. Deanna likewise spent a great deal of time in the dressing room, but instead of staring at herself in the mirror as I did, she sat in the corner quietly looking at emails on her phone. I commented that she and I were the only ones not out in the “Green Room” socializing, and she replied that staying quiet before a performance was a tip she learned from her dad. She stated it very matter-of-factly, as if having an iconic performer for a father was a very normal thing.

I was struck with her humility and approachability, as well as with her willingness to speak freely about memories of her dad, who had passed away five years prior. I wondered what it must be like to live in the shadow of a man who seemed larger than life to the entire world, and speculated to myself about the strategy involved in crafting an identity separate from the surreal persona of the Godfather of Soul. Does she get tired of people asking her questions about him all day, every day? Does she wish she could have her own performance career? Is it exhausting to deal with the celebrity-clingers who only reach out to her because of her maiden name?

These questions are, of course, all ego-based, and as I have had more contact with Deanna over the past few years, I realize that they are incompatible with her true self. Deanna is honored to represent her dad’s legacy, and strives every day to uphold the brand he created. She carries herself with the demeanor of a person who understands what is important in life. She never tires of her circumstances; she brings new relevance to traditional family endeavors. In addition to JAMP, she and her team continue her father’s long-established ritual of giving turkeys and toys to needy families during the holidays.

As if these pursuits were not significant enough, her service to the community reaches even further, augmenting the inspiration I receive just from knowing her. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Augusta Museum of History, which houses an impressive exhibit of James Brown artifacts, and Deanna often leads tours of visitors. During them, she shares personal stories which makes the exhibit come to life, and her admiration for her father is palpable. Her confident, articulate presentation is vibrant, never sounding like she has repeated it thousands of times, which she likely has.

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Finally, Deanna blew me away when she agreed to serve on my own humble committee, a marketing team to promote the revival of the Miller theater downtown. Her dad had been on the stage as a teen, so the connection is there, but it would have been easy for her to dismiss the project in lieu of her many other commitments. On the Miller Marketing Team, she weighs in on discussions, attends meetings, and volunteers for various Miller events. Everything she does has a purpose, but is also done with thoughtfulness and -I’ll say it one last time- grace.

Volunteering at the Miller theater

Volunteering at the Miller theater

So after you watch the James Brown biopic “Get On Up”, do not forget another inspiring story: that of his daughter, who works quietly every day to honor his memory. Reach out to learn more about her talent, which is embracing what music can do for our community. Be inspired by her story, the tale of a little girl who went from dancing on stage to enriching the lives of those around her by taking her dad’s superstardom to a whole new level.

 

A Grain of Rice

I’ve never been a fan of politics. I’ve kept my opinions to myself, steering away from political debates in the same way we’ve all been warned to eschew chats about sex and religion at the dinner table. This avoidance is wise, given my corporate PR position and leadership roles with various organizations. You can’t offend anyone if you don’t foray into the arena at all.

Lately, however, I’ve been dipping my toe into the local political scene, and have decided that there is too much at stake to continue to play it safely on the sidelines. When it comes to next week’s Mayoral election, a quote from the movie Mulan keeps popping into my head: “A single grain of rice can tip the scales,” says the Emperor of China. “One man may be the difference between victory and defeat.”

Another quote keeps popping into my head, advice from an old friend with tremendous political expertise: “Be careful when you show your cards in the political poker game: if you decide to go public with your support of a candidate, make damn sure you back a winner.”

The problem with this advice is that you cannot always be sure. Some races are close, and they require our involvement. They seem to be calling for the grain of rice. Sometimes, for the good of the cause, you have to stick your neck out there,  even though you cannot be 100% sure they will win. You risk alienating people who support a different candidate, and you risk aligning your personal brand with someone who may not be victorious on Election Day.

Here’s the catch: for communities to prosper, we cannot all sit quietly with our opinions to ourselves. There are donations to be made, signs to be posted, events to be attended, flyers to be distributed, voters to be educated. This is especially true when the competition is tight, and victory can come down to a handful of votes.

From the time I heard that Hardie Davis was running for Mayor, I knew he would have my vote. I am a huge Mayor Deke fan, and want his successor to build on that momentum- a unifier, an articulate ambassador for Augusta, someone we can trust to represent us. What I didn’t know at the time was that I would become involved, and exposed. I have officially shown my cards. And there was one issue that pushed me over the edge. SPLOST.

I am in support of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax that is on the same ballot as the Mayoral race. It is a similar package to what has been given voter approval in the past, but this one is tarnished with controversy sparked by misinformation. I am completely convinced that there are Mayoral candidates who refuse to support it simply because they think the public has issues with it, and are afraid to make a stand. Hardie Davis is not afraid; he is informed and supportive. The day the Augusta Chronicle announced that he was the lone SPLOST advocate of the 5 Mayoral hopefuls, I immediately grabbed my purse and made an online donation to his campaign. I was in.

My decision to publicly support Hardie was reinforced at tonight’s Mayoral debate, presented by the Augusta Richmond County Committee for Good Government. In a standing-room only crowd at the Julian Smith BBQ pit, the audience filled with a Who’s Who in politics, Hardie not only held his own, but shined above the rest. He so impressed the crowd that voting members of the Good Government Committee decided to endorse him as their official candidate. But I get ahead of myself. Here’s the scoop on the debate:

I can go ahead and help you eliminate Charles Cummings and Lori Myles, and not just because their numbers are low in the polls. Mr. Cummings, who was difficult to understand, did manage to get the crowd laughing, although not in a good way. At one point, he announced that if elected, he would hold all city commissioners accountable, even if it meant giving them a “report card” on their performance. At his mention of the promise to “hold their feet to the fire”, I was quick to look over at commission members in the audience just in time to witness the nonplussed expressions on their faces. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that it would be difficult for Mr. Cummings to build consensus among the Commissioners with that tactic.

I don’t have much to say about Lori Myles- oops, sorry – DOCTOR Lori Myles, who made reference to her advanced education so many times that I began to wonder if it was an academic competition instead of a political one. She seemed angry and defensive and preachy. I tried to picture her making local speeches and kissing babies, and the images just wouldn’t surface. She is the only person who mentioned SPLOST all evening, but there was no love behind her words. She also made a comment about the city running on a deficit for the past 5 years, an error which Hardie Davis corrected.

Alvin Mason had many supporters in the crowd, and they became quite enthusiastic when he let it be known that if you are looking for a female in office, you might as well vote for him because his Mom is going to be an integral part of his leadership. Mr. Mason actually did quite well in tonight’s event, smiling often and demonstrating an astute mastery of the political charm needed for the Mayoral position. Unfortunately, he has some crazy idea about the Riverfront levee (one that the US Army Corps of Engineers would never allow) and is anti-SPLOST, so he’s off my list. I’m also unsure why he feels he is the only one of the 5 candidates with the “skill-set to sign contracts, something only the Mayor can do.” Overall, a decent performance, but he too is low in the polls and unlikely to be a major contender.

Which leaves me to the 2 top contenders, Hardie Davis and Helen Blocker-Adams. Blocker-Adams has had quite an eventful week in her campaign. She received the endorsement of The Augusta Chronicle, and the next day was blasted by callers on the Austin Rhodes radio show for her personal financial instability. (Bankruptcy, foreclosure, bounced checks, repo, etc- the full package.) Critics question her ability to be a steward of the city’s finances if she cannot manage her own. Blocker-Adams says that her financial troubles are so common that today’s news actually “aligns her with 99% of the population” of this community. I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to be lumped into that category.

I know Helen, who is a nice person and passionate volunteer for the community, but I’m not convinced she has the experience, leadership skills, or polish to represent us on a global stage-which, let’s face it, we are on as a result of the Masters. I have no reservations that Hardie and Evett Davis could mingle with visiting dignitaries, business execs considering Augusta for their expansion,  or other leaders interested in collaborating with our community. Furthermore, I disagree with Blocker-Adams promise that all city employees should get a raise because a) that’s not her decision b) we are in budget crisis mode and c) there are 2,600 employees. What are the odds that they are all doing a good enough job to warrant a raise?

Speaking of 2,600 employees, do you know how I was able to easily whip out that figure? Because Hardie Davis mentioned the number when discussing city finances. One of his strengths for the night was his use of facts to make his point. He presented himself as confident, well-spoken and intelligent. In addition to the HR stats, he also tossed out specifics such as the incompleted Highway 56 and Windsor Road projects, the 16.5 acres of land affiliated with Riverfront issues, the importance of private investment, the potential for Technology Square, and the 31,000 students who need to not only succeed in their local education, but also to have a reason to live and work here after graduation.

Hardie said that the role of government is to promote the well-being of its citizens. His vision makes sense to me, and I am confident that he can build on Mayor Deke’s great progress. If Hardie can be the grain of rice that tips the scales for Augusta’s success, then perhaps we can be inspired to be the grain of rice that tips the scales for his campaign and for SPLOST on May 20. It’s too important to sit back and be quiet. I might even bring it up at the dinner table.

Our Little Masters Bubble

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Plastic Souvenir Cup. If you have more than 5 stacked together, you need to find a designated driver.

During the first full week of April, it’s hard to believe the rest of the planet is not as obsessed with “our little tournament” as we are in Augusta. The Masters is such an integral part of our lives during these 7 days, it amazes me when news outlets report on anything other than the prestigious event and local repercussions. I acknowledge that there are WAY more important things happening around the globe, but sometimes we get so wrapped up in what is happening at 2604 Washington Road that we forget to pay attention. When the newspapers arrive at the dealership each morning, I see the front page of the Augusta Chronicle, appropriately laden with Masters-related stories, including a special section just for the event. I also see the Wall Street Journal, conspicuously void of anything green, and wonder how they were able to fill a paper without any golf-centric articles.

In Augusta, you cannot avoid the impact of the Masters, even if you do not attend it or work amongst it. You plan your day around the traffic, notably on Washington Road or Berckman Road between 7-9am and 4-6pm. You must also plan your meals carefully: all restaurants within walking distance of the course or a cluster of hotels will be standing room only. Hotel rooms are impossible to find, so much so that locals are forced to wait to schedule events (including funerals) until after the week is over, less they risk family members from out of town not being able to attend. (We would invite them to stay in our homes, but we’ve already rented them out and are sleeping on someone else’s floor.)

The process of renting out houses to Master’s guests is a significant chunk of the economic boon for the city, before and during the event. Because of the staggering prices some homes fetch for weekly rentals, owners spend long hours for weeks prior to the tournament in full-prep mode. They plant new flowers, purchase new linens, arrange cleaning services and contract pricey catering companies. Many homeowners spend a hefty chuck of the rental income on home improvements and necessary services, and still have enough left over for enviable vacations in exotic locations. These are the savvy locals-the ones who are able to get out of town. The rest of us are immersed in Masters conversations daily.

If you are a golf fan, you are talking about players such as Zach Johnson and Jason Day, analyzing how they are performing this year. If you don’t know golf, you still have plenty to keep you engaged in the conversation. We dissect the new pimento cheese sandwich recipe or this year’s gift shop purchases with the gravity of a political debate . Celebrity sightings are often a-buzz, and proud mentions of new Augusta National member Condoleeza Rice are often dropped. The irreverent John Daly is often found hawking souvenirs at the local Hooters, which is a destination in itself, staffed with the best Hooter girls from around the southeast.

Even if you avoid the traffic, steer clear of the restaurants and walk away from golf chatter at the water cooler, you cannot avoid the Masters logo on your social media apps. 47% of your Facebook friends have changed their profile picture to the famous flag, 32% of the people you follow on Twitter are offering play-by-play updates from the course*. You can hate golf with all of the passionate zeal in your heart, but by Sunday, you’ve absorbed so much of the tournament through osmosis, that it is hard to avoid the temptation to watch the final 30 minutes of play on TV, which is always edge-of-your-seat compelling. No matter what you think of the sport, there is something pretty powerful about the tears that flow when the green jacket is put on the champion.

With all of these distractions, you can understand why we forget that the world around us is still moving forward, creating worthwhile stories that have nothing to do with how much scalped badges went down in value because Tiger isn’t playing this year. I’m pretty sure we can all catch up on the real news next week, but in the meantime, I’ve got to see if I can borrow a ticket for a couple of hours and see what autographs I can get on my bright yellow flag.

* All statistics are completely fabricated estimates based on my own social media news feeds.